News Analysis: Buhari, APC And A Legacy Unsung By Cantankerous Spokesmen

President Muhammadu Buhari
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By Akombo Aondona, Abuja

Lai Muhammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad and Ajuri Ngelale are all household names in Nigeria today as much as the principal they serve in government, President Muhammadu Buhari.

   As spokespersons to the Federal Government (in this wise the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed) and senior adviser on media (Femi Adesina) and assistants in media – traditional and new – to the president in the quartet of Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad and Ajuri Ngelale, not a week passes without one of these men trending in public discourse, especially on Social Media.

  You would have thought that each time you see any of the presidential spokesman trending it is happening because they had just told the nation about how President Buhari has just fulfilled one of his grand campaign promises over the two terms he had campaigned and got the nod of the electorate to occupy Aso Rock.

 True, they had trended for this reason but it is usually far and in between. The truth is that for most of the last seven years Lai Muhammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad and Ajuri Ngelale have trended in the public imagination not for effectively selling their principal’s achievements to Nigerians.

  More often than not, each time you see the name of any of these presidential aides in the social media, Twitter for instance, they are more likely to be drawing opprobrium either to themselves or President Buhari.

Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed

  The scorn they draw to themselves and contempt the President also gets pasted on his person and office is usually because Twitterati have fact-checked what any of the presidential media aide has said, and found it to the half-truth or outright falsehood, or the trending spokesman has decided to engage himself in a sickening, Bolekaja exchange of insults with social media users.

  This lasting discourse of damnation between all presidential spokespersons and the public appears to be a hangover of the 2015 presidential campaign in which attack on the person of then President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was an effective strategy of Candidate Muhammadu Buhari and then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

  However, after winning the presidency, none of the presidential spokespersons has been able to snap himself out of that attack-dog mode and engage the public on governmental issues per se on a nuanced manner that clearly aims to convince Nigerians that President Buhari is working hard in the interest of the nation.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina

 Thus for most of the Buhari first term and even now – albeit in a much more muted tone – atavism of “the 16 years of PDP misrule” was the regular cant these spokesmen and even President Buhari himself regurgitated to an expectant public eager to see “CHANGE” in a holistic, utilitarian delivery of grand campaign promises made by Candidate Buhari and the APC in the presidential 2015 campaign.

   Many a presidential media aide also widened the chasm between President Buhari and a hitherto hailing public by the sheer carelessness and insensitivity of their media comments in the face of national tragedy such as the New Year massacre in Benue State to which the Senior Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina, said natal Nigerians have to choose between giving up their ancestral land to marauding killer herdsmen to pasture cattle or losing their lives to the invaders whom even President Buhari himself said were non-Nigerians. To say the least, it was a statement only a sociopath would make.

Mr. Femi Adesina (left) and Malam Garba Shehu (right)

 In the needless public spat these presidential aides conducted with a disappointed, disapproving and exasperated public, their main duties as chief informants and  image-makers to both the Federal Government and President Buhari evidently suffer as the stratospheric approval rating of President Buhari and the APC in 2015 progressively plummets over the last seven years.

Mr. Ajuri Ngelale

   This erosion of the public confidence in President Buhari is also because as these presidential spokespersons doubled down in their attack mode, all of the achievements of the Buhari Administration are subsumed in the vicious mudslinging they seem to take for personal image branding and public perception management for the President  – to the extent the average Nigerian today would struggle to list the President’s legacies offhand. Thus it is common to hear the average Nigerian say “Buhari and APC have achieved nothing since 2015!”

Yet an objective, detached appraisal of the Buhari Administration would reveal a significant movement of the national development needle forward, even if some would still contend, vociferously, that to whom much has been given, much has not been accomplished between 2015 and now.

   A check from the records shows that President Buhari administration has improved upon the national rail system he met on ground in 2015. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line has been completed and running as well as the Warri-Itakpe rail service, 33 years after construction began.

 The Federal Government under Buhari has also launched a revitalisation of the Port Harcourt–Maiduguri Narrow Gauge Rail. About 377 Wagons, 64 Coaches, and 21 Locomotives have been purchased for the Standard Gauge network, between 2016 and 2021. There is also the Kano-Maradi train project. According to some estimates, more than 11,000 new jobs have been created from on-going rail modernisation projects in the country under the Buhari administration. 

Malam Bashir Ahmad

  Still in the transport sector, the Buhari Administration has established a new Transportation University in Daura, Katsina State, and a new Rail Wagon Assembly Plant in Kajola, Ogun State – both nearing completion today. Millions of Nigerians who only knew of train services from the tales of yore told by senior citizens now have their own exhilarating stories to tell about train travel. Rail haulage of heavy goods has also resumed with, for instance, three thousand tons of cement transported monthly through train freight service from Lagos to Kano.

   In road project, the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) initiated by the Buhari Administration has expended over $1 billion dollars on three flagship projects: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway,  Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway, Abuja-Lafia-Makurdi road expansion.

Mr. Tolu Ogunlesi

    Also, to tackle public infrastructure deficit in the country, the Buhari Administration set up the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme which is being implemented by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

   At a recent Senate Stakeholder and Public Hearing on the 2023 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Paper held at the Senate Chambers, Executive Chairman, FIRS, Mr. Muhammad Nami, described the scheme as one of the greatest innovations of the President Buhari Administration in its resolve to tackle Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit.

   The Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme provides for public-private partnership intervention in the construction, refurbishment and maintenance of critical road infrastructure in the country with participants being entitled to tax credits against their future Companies Income Tax (CIT).

  At the Senate hearing, Nami said: “I think one of the greatest innovations of the government of the day is the Executive Order 007, which was signed into law in 2019. I want to speak to the one we are handling jointly with the NNPC. The NNPC through its subsidiary, for instance, is investing in about 1,824 kilometres of roads across the 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

“Some of these roads had been constructed as far back as 1976. I could remember when I was still rounding up my primary school education, the road that leads Suleja to Lapai-Agaie-Bida was constructed by a company called DTV. I am not aware of any significant work done on that road 40 years later, until now when the NNPC is using Executive Order 007 to reconstruct the road. 

“I can report authoritatively to the Chairman and members of this committee that from December 2021 to July this year, the contractor has completed the reconstruction of well over 50 percent of that road. 

“The challenge of road construction in Nigeria has always been funding. Yes, there are contracts for the construction of roads, but funding these constructions is the challenge.

“The road leading from Suleja to Minna for instance was awarded some 11 years ago to a company for over N20 billion. Ironically, annual budgetary provision in our National Budget every year stands between N150 million to N200 million per annum. If we are to complete that road, going by the annual budgetary provisions it would take an average of 35 to 40 years before we finish it. 

“I can confirm to the Chairman that with Executive Order 007, NNPC is now providing funds and in the next two to three years that road will be completed. This is an important innovation of the government and I would plead with this distinguished Committee of the National Assembly to support the government on it,” Mr. Nami noted.

 Similarly, President Buhari has also established the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria (InfraCorp) with initial seed capital of N1 trillion provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In addition to the N1 trillion equity seed capital, InfraCorp is expected to mobilise up to an additional N14 trillion of debt capital. InfraCorp’s goal is “to catalyse and accelerate investment into Nigeria’s infrastructure sector by originating, structuring, executing and managing end-to-end bankable projects in that space.”

  In the power sector, the Buhari administration has been working – both by itself and in collaboration with other governmental and corporate entities – on a number of initiatives to increase power generation, transmission and distribution. These are spread in such power projects as the Zungeru Hydro, Kashimbila Hydro, Afam III Fast Power, Kudenda Kaduna Power Plant, the Okpai Phase 2 Plant, the Dangote Refinery Power Plant, among others, being handled by such global giants in power infrastructure construction like Siemens and others.

   Under the National Mass Metering Programme launched in August 2020, the Buhari Administration is implementing a national rollout of electricity meters to all on-grid consumers. The CBN is providing N200 billion for this and so far more than one million meters have been rolled out, in the first phase, which created thousands of new jobs in meter installation and assembly.

In April 2021, the Buhari Administration also launched the Solar Power Naija (SPN) initiative to deliver five million off-grid solar connections to more than 20 million Nigerians, which the CBN is also financing.

 The seven-month-old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may seem to indicate that the Buhari Administration “has done nothing” in the university system. However, the reality is that the President has his achievements across federal and state universities.

 For instance, the Buhari Administration has taken its clean and reliable energy (solar and gas) initiative to federal universities and teaching hospitals across the country. For example, four universities – Bayero University, Kano, Alex-Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State), Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi and Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Delta State –  have completed and commissioned projects in this regard and others are ongoing.

    However, all of these laudable achievements have not been ingrained into public consciousness by the presidential media aides as deeply as the APC campaign machinery was able to discredit President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 for the party’s victory. No one is more puzzled by this failure than President Buhari himself.

 Belatedly in the twilight of his final tour of duty, President Buhari by all intent and purpose, blamed  Minister Lai Muhammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad and Ajuri Ngelale, for the poor perception of his administration’s achievements by most Nigerians.              

  Not a few Nigerians were bemused to hear the President – speaking in the Imo State capital, Owerri, on a state visit to commission some projects executed by Governor Hope Uzodinma – said those saddled with informing Nigerians of his legacy in government had failed to do it.

  President Buhari insisted that his administration has done so much in the areas of infrastructure, security and agriculture and wondered why his spokesmen have not been effective in communication this to the nation.

  Similarly, (APC) National Leader for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) Hon. Tolu Bankole,  recently expressed concern over the poor job which the presidential spokesmen and APC members in government had made of showcasing the achievements of President Buhari, to the nation in the last seven years.

  Bankole charged all presidential aides, federal cabinet members and heads of government agencies to step up the publicity game by spreading the achievements of the APC-led Federal Government before Nigerians so that they would vote massively for the party in the 2023 General Elections on the sound knowledge that President Buhari has recorded lasting legacies for the country’s development since taking office in 2015.

    While both the President and some APC faithful have only belatedly realised that the media machinery around the Buhari Administration had long lost sight of its primary duties and is effectively only chasing shadows, it is instructive to note that The Dream Daily Newspaper drew the administration’s attention to this in 2016, barely one year into the life of the Buhari Presidency.

  In a piece entitled “Reporter’s Diary: With This NOA, Buhari’s WAI Is Dead On Arrival” penned by this reporter and published on September 9, 2016,  The Dream Daily Newspaper stated that “if, as it has been widely reported, President Muhammadu Buhari relies on the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to drive his renewed efforts to change the attitude of Nigerians through his recently launched Change Begins With Me (CBWM) campaign, which aims to instill public morality, social order and civic responsibility in Nigerians, the President is in for a great disappointment from the NOA.

 “To put it straight, the NOA as it exists today is in no good health to instill any morality, social order or civil responsibility in any Nigerian. In fact, the NOA that this reporter visited for a period of two weeks in the last month is in need of large doses of morality, social order and civic responsibility of its own. The NOA is in fact a study in how not to run a government office. It epitomizes everything that is wrong with public offices and services in Nigeria today.”

   Regrettably, no one in the government of President Buhari, especially his minister of information and other spokespersons, paid attention to this wake-up call in 2016.  

  Political analysts have pointed out that the campaign plans of the APC Presidential Candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has a Herculean task to convince Nigerians to vote for Tinubu and APC in the 2023 campaign because the campaign period is short and Tinubu is swimming against the tides of the failure by President Buhari’s media aides to definitively convince voters that indeed President Buhari has performed well in office.

  In fact, some public affairs analysts have said that if the Tinubu Campaign Organisation wants to succeed in 2023, it would have to paddle its own canoe on the 2023 presidential campaign and distance Tinubu as much as practicable from the Buhari Administration, which has not been well sold to Nigerians since 2015 and therefore could be a campaign drag to both Tinubu and the APC towards 2023.

   Whoever emerges as the President in 2023 and his media aides would do well to learn from the failure of Lai Muhammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad and Ajuri Ngelale to convince Nigerians that President Buhari has indeed fulfilled his campaign promises to the nation through lasting legacies in public infrastructure, policy formulation, etc.

They should realise that the attack-dog electioneering campaign mode could fail spectacularly when you continue on the same trajectory after you have won the election and taken over the reins of government.

  The belligerent presidential spokesman may succeed in shutting up a critic here and a traducer there.  But in another, more debilitating consequence, he or she may also be so preoccupied with throwing stones at every barking dog for eight years – and fail woefully to cut to the kernel of his or her principal’s legacies in office over two terms.   This is the case of President Muhammadu Buhari and his media apparatchiks –  Lai Muhammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Bashir Ahmad,  Ajuri Ngelale and the National Orientation Agency.   

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